Every year, British-born Nigerian musicians make the journey to Lagos to achieve success back home. Do they find it?
If you follow the UK African music scene, you will find numerous artists who have cracked the African community in London and created a music culture that has become an integral part of the soundscape.
These artists are migrants or offsprings of migrants, who embraced music as a form of expression, and over the years, have sang their way to relevance and success within the African community in the UK, and more.
A huge number of these acts are Nigerians, and they have tasted success in many ways. They appeal to Nigerians in the diaspora, attend concerts in European cities and find new ways to spread the wave. Examples include Moelogo, May7even, Maleek Berry and more.
Years of struggle have created an ecosystem for African music, where they feed the demand for African music in the UK, and also grow their art.
But the African community in the UK cannot be compared to the African community in Africa. Irrespective of how much these artists achieve in Europe, there’s still a longing for success back home. The benefits of blowing up in Africa are immense.
Artists get more revenue via performances, sales of records, and validation by their people. Their influence grows, fanbase multiplies and they could tap firsthand into the raw creative vibe on the continent and push it.
Any artist who blows up in Nigeria has a higher chance of achieving success in the UK and beyond. Lagos is the capital of entertainment in much of Africa, and it constantly exports its offerings to everywhere else.
But for most of the artists in the UK, it’s always a shock for them when they return to the country and find out that they are relatively unknown. Nigerian artists in the UK might be stars in the diaspora, but unless they have music which has consistently penetrated the market in Nigeria, they are regarded as new acts, who have no relevance in the industry, and amongst music consumers.
Moelogo is one of those acts who has made the jump from the UK to Nigeria.
Born in Lagos, the British-Nigerian songwriter relocated to South London in 2001 and discovered his love for singing through his school music class. And he has never looked back.
Moelogo’s first break came in 2013 with the release of ‘Pangolo,’ a synth-heavy track designed for dance floors. In 2016, he released Ìréti, a 5-song EP created with producer P2J. “Ìréti” translates to “Hope” in his native Yoruba language.
“The little buzz I created in the UK made a little noise in the industry and I had interest from OAPs who started playing my songs on the regular but couldn't interview me,” Moelogo tells me in a text conversation. “So it was only right to come through and show them, love.”
Back in Lagos Moelogo began to put in the leg work. Although he is fairly popular within the music community in Nigeria, true commercial success comes from outside that community. To reach them, artists have to activate channels within the community to do that. Interviews came fast and easy. Media hopping was his aim, and getting more airplays to distribute the music became his target.
His buzz is rising as the the likes of Davido and Sarkodie have remixed his Ìréti‘s standout 'Penkele.' He has also scored a collaboration with Highlife singer Adekunle Gold.
It’s the same for everyone else. Cracking the Nigerian market is tough. And it is even tougher for returnees who would have to compete against the local acts and learn new tricks to get by.
Returning artists would have to work extra hard at gaining relationships, building new networks and channels to push their music. Throw that in with the culture shock in Lagos, and a new way of doing business in Nigeria, and you have a daunting task.
“The question they should asked themselves and be totally honest is ‘what do you have that somebody else don't have where you're going?’ Moelogo says. “If you have something that's so unique, then by all means go and surf the market. But if you don't, my guy stay put.”
Another artist who have found success with crossing over is Maleek Berry. The British-born recording producer and recording artist first began to crack the Nigerian market as a producer. He worked extensively with African pop stars to gain a footing back home.
His records with Wizkid, Davido, Iyanya, Wale, Runtown and others, served as a stepping stone to his recording process. His 2013 single ‘The matter’ featuring Wizkid became a hit in Nigeria.
In 2016, another single ‘Kontrol’ became a crossover hit, and he has utilised perfectly to transition into a local star within the country. His EP, “Last Daze of Summer” was critically acclaimed, and in 2017, he is releasing more material and guesting on new records. The most of these feature appearances of 2017 is his work on Ycee’s hit record, ‘Juice’.
Maleek’s verse on the Adey-produced track is part of the charm that has made the record become the most played song for six consecutive weeks.
Although it isn’t always success stories for crossover artists. For every Maleek Berry, there’s are countless UK artists who have faced extreme difficulty in cracking the market. Artists such as SHiiKANE, May7ven, and Ezi Emela are still in the process of getting heard in Nigeria, despite many years of hard work and financial investment.
Twin sisters Shayshay and Princess Annamay and younger sister Baby-K, who make up the girl band SHiiKANE have repeatedly attempted to crack the Nigerian market. So far, they have achieved limited success. From shooting expensive music videos to collaborating with stars, no box has been left unchecked. But organic success has eluded the trio who worked hard for an album last year but haven’t released it.
“In Nigeria, we have faced a few challenges. The main one is faced by all the females in the industry and that is it’s male-dominated. The ladies are outnumbered. In any major event it’s rare to see females on line-up, maybe Tiwa, Yemi Alade and Seyi Shay and the other 20 acts will be men.” They told Daily Trust.
But all of that might be changing with the explosion of African pop sounds. In the past two years, the explosion of African sounds championed by Wizkid, Davido, Tekno, Mr Eazi and a few others have created a new demand for the genre in new markets. Non-traditional African music listeners are on the rise, with new systems being created to cater to these new markets.
Although Nigeria is still home to the culture, artists are discovering that they can export their material to a growing fan base outside traditional markets.
This has been a blessing to numerous acts seeking for new ways to generate value for their music. A great example is pop singer Ayo Jay. The Nigerian singer had his single ‘Ýour number’ re-released by RCA Records in 2016. It was pushed through US radio.
In Nigeria, that song never stood a chance to go pop. Artists are beginning to understand that, and they are adapting their businesses to target these new markets with music.
“I don't believe in locations. I believe if the music is amazing and the feeling is right, it will travel. People will call for you,” Moelogo says.